I was floating very comfortably in the vampire ether. Sookie’s warm thighs and very touchable dress lay under my cheek. With each inhalation, I steadily gorged on her scent, perfectly happy to fall into my rest, even though our mouths were spouting some nonsense about needing to spoil the moment with talking.
I’d brought her to the house that I’d already placed in her name. She gave me the standard refusal boilerplate. I ignored it. The keys were already on her chain in her purse. And despite how much work I actually needed to do (Mississippi’s Areas Two and Four needed new sheriffs and the AVL were hosting several vampire-friendly festivals next month that I needed to oversee), I couldn’t manage to conjure up a fuck to give about it. I’d become king out of necessity. I wasn’t married to my job. I was married to Sookie. She had a ball of sunlight encasing my heart that proved it.
So I snuggled with my wife on this ridiculously plush sofa and fell asleep. Leave a message with my fucking secretary.
I heard birds. I felt the sun strengthen through the windows. I smelled the swamp around us.
And then, gradually, I didn’t.
When I heard voices, it took several minutes to pull myself out of my self-induced stupor. They were quiet at first. Mutterings. Hushed. Then, they began to increase. In speed. In volume. Until Sookie’s voice, clear as a bell, broke through the fog.
“Lady, you got some nerve. I said take us back! I’m not having this conversation here, goddammit. Not when ten years will pass in the meantime. If Claudine can pop her ass on and off my property to chat, then so can you.”
“How dare you?” an imperious female voice ansered in return. “You presume to order me about? I am queen of this realm and you will show me the proper respect, Half Child.”
“I’m going to ignore that last part and just reiterate that you have NO right to take us out of our home. I wanna talk with you, but not here! TAKE US HOME!”
“What is there to discuss? You’ve ruined your Choice! A vampire?! You have no idea what you’ve done! There are many from our kind that would have been happy to wed you.”
“Claudine said you were okay with it! My dream TOLD me you were okay with it! My Choice is supposed to trump any bullshit objection you might have of him being a vampire! And this is all beside the point because I’m not asking permission. Eric is mine! I want to know about the tome and Claudine’s claim that I’m having a Scion, but I ain’t gonna say it again. Put us back in our world right now. This isn’t worth ruining your pretty princess costume over.”
With that, I opened my eyes. Our house around us was gone. Golden light fell all around us in suspicious fairytale spledor. I drew air threw my nose. I gasped. I felt my pupils dilate. There was no swamp in this smell. No cedar furniture. No earth as I had ever experienced it.
Sookie had told me that her people’s world was the vampire equivalent of Willy Wonka’s crack house and that I’d go “balls-out, foaming crazy” if I ever breached their border. She warned me that the place smelled like her happiest memory.
Taking another inhalation, her prediction about my craziness was entirely possible.
This world didn’t smell like cookies to me. I had no interest in sugar and cinnamon. This world smelled like Sookie. The leaves on the trees above smelled like her laughter. The grass beneath my face smelled like the first time we made love. The wind itself smelled like when she wrapped her arms around me and whispered that she loved me. And now she stood before me in all of her glory, balling out an ancient monarch (again), pointing her finger in the woman’s face and completely oblivious to my wakefulness.
I blinked in shock. I blocked my nose. This was going to require all of my faculties and I couldn’t afford to get high.
Sookie and Mab stood toe to toe, Sookie looking fit to punch the woman right in the nose. The queen herself was stately enough, though Sookie was right about her dress. It looked like an eight year old’s birthday cake, complete with body glitter, which looked rather desperate on a fifty year old. But it wasn’t the fabled queen or my mate’s argument with her that highjacked my eyes and wouldn’t release them.
As Sookie gesticulated wildly, her lovely dress swishing with her movements, her lower belly throbbed with the brightening and dimming of a beautiful white light. It shone through her clothes, and through her skin beneath them, and her muscles beneath that. She was lit from the inside out.
It was stunning.
Claudine had seen it that morning on my lawn. Now in their realm, I could see it too.
Sookie was pregnant with Light.
And it was mine.
My instinct overrode my caution and I inhaled deeply, looking for the scent of my child. My fangs clicked as the scent of Sookie’s eye color and sock preferences filled my lungs. The sound was loud enough to startle the women into silence. Suddenly I had everyone’s attention as I growled softly at my mate, never sparing a glance towards anyone else, whom I’m sure, under other circumstances, wouldn’t have even seen me before I ripped their Fae heads off and sucked from their gushing throats like a public drinking fountain.
Still. They backed away fearfully, this semicircle of fairies, terrified of me. At least, I assumed they were. I wasn’t paying attention.
“Ssssssookie,” I purred to her.
She smiled at me, her eyes filling with relief. “Hey, you. Would you please tell her majesty to get her ass in gear? Pam and Jason and everyone will freak out of we’re gone for more than a day.”
I didn’t hear her request. I reared up onto my knees and snatched her, ramming my head into her belly.
She let out a squeak and pushed at me, scandalized at my public affection in front of so many staring eyes. She wasn’t looking down. She didn’t see it. She’d been so preoccupied sassing that it never even occurred to her to check.
“Look,” I said, pressing a hand between her hip bones. “It’s true. You carry my child.”
Something hot and greedy broke inside of me. Sookie was the mother of my child. Through some miracle of motley genetics, a vampire and a human-fairy hybrid had managed to conceive.
As I finally threw a glance around the others, I saw they too had Lights. As Claudine had explained, each fairy held a Light within their chest with the slightest hint of color. Pinks, oranges, blues, grays, all throbbing steadily through their clothes, where their hearts beat. None, however had one in their womb, as Sookie did, just as she didn’t wield a Light in her heart.
I looked down at my own chest.
My own chest was ablaze with Sookie’s buried Light, shining as brightly as a flashlight through a sheet. It was as golden as my lover’s skin and hair, the perfect hue for her sunny personality. I puffed up a bit, relishing its beauty. It was far more lovely than the other fairies’ Lights, just as the pure white Light in her belly was the most beautiful of all.
This wasn’t just my opinion.
Other fairies were suddenly taking notice. Their brows crinkled. They whispered at each other behind their hands. Only Claudine, hidden among their ranks, seemed to understand the significance of Sookie’s lack of a heart Light and possession of a womb Light.
I inhaled again and buried myself against her. I was losing my fight to stay rational.
Sun. Beauty. Happiness. I… couldn’t… remember what we…
My eyes rolled back. Fuck it. My hands dove under the hem of her dress, gripping her ass and shoving her stomach harder into my face. She squealed my name and shoved at my head.
“Sookie,” I drew out again. “Ripe Sookie.”
She gave up pushing at me. “Shit,” she muttered. “You’re no help.”
Mab’s smugness radiated like heat. “What did you expect? He’s an animal. Animals like to gnaw on their bones.”
There were murmurs of agreement. Judgmental twits in tutus and hotpants…
Sookie stood straighter in my arms, defiant. “I’ll thank y’all to shut the hell up about my Chosen. He can’t drink your blood anymore, but he can still decapitate people just fine.”
“Shall I kill them for you?” I asked into her dress. I wasn’t completely sure whom she meant, but if she wanted someone dead, she only need ask. She shushed me, running her fingers through my hair, driving me further into my euphoric stupor. Her Light was stronger in this place. Electricity skittered out of her fingers with every pass over my scalp. I moaned softly.
“Mab,” she pleaded, putting her hand on her stomach next to my face. “I can see it, too. Please,” she stumbled. I could smell her tears. I hissed with dislike, several fairies gasping at the noise. “Please,” she repeated. “I don’t want to lose any more time.”
There was silence. Sookie continued to pet me as I rubbed myself against her belly, marking my territory. I felt no unease about our being kidnapped, outnumbered, and held hostage. I knew I should have, but I couldn’t penetrate my own bliss. I sensed Mab was making a decision. If she didn’t comply with Sookie’s request, I would kill her. And her second in command, if they refused. And her third. Until a fairy with some fucking brains inherited her post. In the meantime… I took another deep drag through her dress. And another.
I could smell it now.
It was unlike any pregnancy I’d ever encountered, but there was a faint, perfect scent of genesis. Like Sookie, my child smelled like happiness. Unlike her signature of honey and pure sunshine, my child held notes of snow and wildflowers. I knew this smell. I let out a very excited purr as I drew again in disbelief. Incredible. Ancient Dalsland flashed in my mind. Springtime. The chill of early morning and how it drew goosebumps on my human skin as I rose for the morning. The break of dawn. Tiny, tremulous purple flowers peeking out of the frigid, inhospitable earth.
“Förgätmigej.” My tiny child smelled like Water Forget-Me-Nots.
Sookie sighed above me. It was just another strange word from my past. Her arms circled my head and she hugged me.
“Don’t make me sic ‘im on you,” she said quietly to our hostess.
Another moment passed, then finally the queen made a noise of impatience. “Fine. If you insist on wasting time, then we shall do it in your world.”
Sookie let out a loud, relieved breath. “Finally.”
“You will guarantee my safety and keep your dog on his leash, yes?” She haughty tone made my fangs itch. I opened my mouth and massaged them against Sookie’s dress, soothing their bloodlust.
Sookie huffed. “You’ll pay him the respect he’s owed as a king and a gentleman, or I’ll order him to rip your wings off, Highness.” Had I been myself, I would have laughed at her double contradiction in terms. Instead, I merely growled in agreement (proving the queen may have had a point).
“Claudine, you will join us,” Mab said.
“Yes, Majesty.” The fairy moved from the circle to join us in the center.
I pulled myself out of Sookie to watch as Mab lifted her hands and made a silence entreaty to the world around us. Immediately, the air shifted and a vortex of light opened beside us. The queen gestured to it. “Enter.”
Sookie nudged me to my feet, then took my hand and all but dragged me to the interdimensional door. “Pam’s gonna kill me,” she said under her breath.
As I followed her, I felt a surprising sadness to be leaving so soon. We’d only just arrived, and yet Sookie was adamant that every moment spent here equalled a day or more. Had I eventually gained my senses, I would have liked to explore this world. Ask questions about its allure. Make love to Sookie in it. Watch her belly for hours, memorizing the ebb and flow of the Light I had put there, never even needing to blink.
The fairy women followed on my heel.
As we entered another forest, it was late into the night. My nose was loathe to inform me that we had entered northern Louisiana and that the magical essence in the air had vanished. The four of us had just barely come through the bright porthole before it quickly zipped shut behind us. Clearly, it didn’t risk the possibility of trespassers. As I pulled another lungful of air, my headiness instantly began to retreat. Slowly, I turned heel and met the gaze of the Great Fae Queen for the first time.
It was still hard to believe this particular fairytale was true. As I took in her cold, blue eyes, thin body and translucent skin, I was transported back seven hundred years ago to when I’d first heard her name. Godric said that it was important to assume all tales were true, until proven otherwise. With this woman, the proof was in the glitter.
“Your Majesty,” I proffered, bowing slightly.
She lowered her lids fractionally. “Regional king,” she returned rather bitchily.
“Forgive my trance. My woman struck me insensible.”
She cast her eye around our world with an unimpressed eye. “You’ve asked me here, Half Child,” she spoke to Sookie standing beside me. “I suggest you use the time wisely before we’re forced to leave. His kind,” she jutted her chin at me, “are everywhere.”
Sookie nodded, rubbing her hands together anxiously. I mourned that the Light was gone, reburied under her flesh, invisible to this world. I reached down and stroked over her hands. “It was lovely,” I murmured in her ear. “I cannot tell you how proud I am.”
She gave me a watery, grateful look before leveling her eyes at the queen and her cousin. “Then cut to the chase. We saw the Light for ourselves. If I’m really pregnant, and it’s really a Scion, then I need you to tell me so. Now.”
Claudine’s gaze had never left her. Not from the moment I’d awoken and spared her a glance. Her attention had been glued to Sookie. Now, she looked worriedly at her queen.
Mab, however, seemed unperturbed. “Yes,” she said finally. “It is so.”
Sookie’s legs gave out. I barely caught her in time, and hauled her up against me. “Oh my God,” she rasped. “I can’t believe it.”
“Nor I,” replied the queen. “But you have the pure Light within you. A Half Child and a bloodsucker have somehow realized the Fae’s oldest prophesy. You carry the Scion.” Surprisingly, a ripple of fear entered her calm features. “The Coming has begun.’
Sookie shrunk into a tiny space in my side. “Oh, Jesus,” she whimpered. “The Coming? What’s coming? And why is it coming to us? You look so disgusted… are you sure I’m not just pregnant?” Her eyes grew hopeful at the thought. “Maybe I’m just pregnant with a quarter fairy baby! It’s possible, right? I mean, Claudine’s already said there’s never been a couple like me and Eric. Maybe the Light in me is just our little fairy-human-vampire guy! That’s probably exactly what-”
Mab raised her hand to cut her off. “No,” she said impatiently. “The pure Light is unmistakable. I see it even now. And your relationship is in keeping with our Tome, which fortold of a bond unique in the world. And that your joining would create a Scion, the deed of equalibrium.”
“Equalibrium of what?” I asked, cradling Sookie carefully. “What is our child to you?” It didn’t matter. She couldn’t have it. Whatever the Fae needed him for, they’d just have to take it up with the Department of Kiss My Lukewarm Ass. Ask for Pam.
She pursed her lips, silently debating how much to say.
“Answer me, Mab. My leash is straining.”
“Do not threaten me.”
“Don’t be a stonewalling cunt. I get awfully bitey when it comes a lack of information about my firstborn.”
A small flitter of happiness rose in Sookie. She liked my paternal side, apparently. She’d be sick of it soon enough, after I’d locked her in our new, hidden home and refused to let her or our baby see the outside world ever again.
Mab ignored my insult and my threat, drawing herself up to her full height. “The Tome does not explain the exact meaning of the Coming, however our people have believed for an age that the Scion, if arisen, would precipitate a shift in the supernatural world.”
“For the Fae?”
She shook her head. “For all.”
I blinked. “All? All supernaturals? Fae, vampire, shifter, demon-”
“All,” she interrupted me. “It is believed the Coming will trigger a mighty upheaval in the composition and relationships of these races.”
“A truce?” Sookie queried.
I highly doubted it. “A war?” I asked.
Mab raised her shoulders fractionally. “It is not known.”
“Not good enough.” My phone pinged in my pocket. I ignored it.
“This isn’t a barter, vampire. I’ve told you all I know. Be grateful I’ve given you that much.” A branch snapped in the forest. All of our heads jerked in its direction. Claudine cast a fearful glance at me.
“Majesty, we must leave.” Though looking my way, I wasn’t sure which regent she addressed.
My phone pinged again. Another message. Again, I ignored it. “We aren’t done, Fae queen. We must resolve this, whatever it is.” I did my best to sound respectful. Sookie and I needed this woman, as much as I detested the idea. She was the only one in a position to help us, if there was any help to be had.
Sookie’s hands were in my shirt, clenching and releasing like a kneading kitten. I put my hand in her hair, stroking it gently.
Mab turned to Claudine. “You will continue your vigil over your Godchild,” she gestured to Sookie. “Stay alert. Tell Chloe the same.”
“Chloe?” Sookie asked.
“Hadley’s fairy Godmother,” Claudine explained. “She’s been watching over her for the last three years.”
Ah. The woman Herveaux had spotted.
“Will other vampires be able to sense her pregnancy?” I asked, hugging her slightly tighter. “Do others know of this prophesy? Will they look for Sookie, now that it has materialized?”
“The Tome is ours, but the prophesy is not. The foretelling is ancient and its tellers are almost extinct. However, there are some. Not all are fairies, either. I do not know if other races have the means of knowing about Sookie. Or how they interpret the Coming. But the magic responsible for the Scion is supposed to be the most powerful ever known. Some may welcome it. Others…”
My body hardened. A natural response to planning the death of anyone who came asking about her. “I understand.”
“No, you don’t. No one does, not even I. The Coming may spell the death of all magical people, vampire. Or the death of all non-magical. Or a Utopia. Or Hell. You should protect Sookie at all costs. Or kill her now, before the atrocities strike us all down, one by one. There is nothing to understand.” She lifted her hand slightly and summoned the votex again. It opened immediately, swirling with light.
Claudine stepped forward and kissed Sookie’s cheek. When she stepped back, there were tears in her eyes that she tried to smile through. “Be brave,” she whispered. “The Coming is a good thing. I’ve believed so since I was a little girl. Have faith, your child is born of love. The world will be better for him.”
She backed away. Mab gestured impatiently to the door and Claudine gave us one more plaintive look before disappearing through it. For the first time since our introduction, Mab’s featured softened slightly. “I want to agree with her,” she confessed softly. “Were the stakes not so frightening, I would offer my peace to you. You are both unlikely, but I cannot argue with your bond.” She paused. “Nor can I deny the significance of your child. Prepare youselves, Sookie Stackhouse and vampire king Northman. We are about to be tested.” She turned towards the door. “All of us.”
She entered the well of light. It ate her up and disappeared, leaving Sookie and I alone in the dark forest.
“Jesus, save us,” she murmured, turning her face into me.
My phone pinged again. I took it out of my pocket and checked it. I had ninety-two missed calls, fifty-eight texts and seventy voicemails. Pam, Domingo, Herveaux, Hadley, the king of Missouri, the queen of Arkansas, even Sam Merlotte. Sookie peeked into my hand, catching her breath when she saw the date glowing softly in the upper lefthand of the screen.
We had been gone nine days.